“The things I want to remember I can’t, and the things I try so hard to forget just keep coming.”

– Into the Water, Paula Hawkins

This book was ridiculous, over the top and thoroughly gripping. But seriously, as someone who grew up in a village in the English countryside I just don’t get this depiction of English villages as small, insular, weird and frankly backwards places. Really, in this day and age? It’s not like that at all. It’s a stereotype that needs to die.

“She can’t help but rehearse what she’ll say. Though she fears the rehearsal will make her appear guilty, like trying to make your face seem natural when going through passport control in Moscow or Tehran – the more you think about it, the more rictus your expression becomes. Not that she’s ever been to those places, but even on the queue at Brittany Ferries she has made a point of catching the immigration officer’s eye and smiling, so as to say, ‘You won’t find any contraband in my backpack.’ “

– Missing, Presumed, Susie Steiner

This book was trying real hard, but fell short. The mystery was lame and full of clichés. The characters were also cliché, or trying too hard not to be. There was a humour in the book (see: quote), and some beautifully written parts, but overall I didn’t particularly like it, was rolling my eyes at some parts, especially at the end, and will not be continuing the series.

“Running might take her forward, it could even take her home; but it couldn’t take her back–not ten minutes, ten hours, not ten years or days. And that was tough, as Hely would say. Tough: since back was the way she wanted to go, since the past was the only place she wanted to be.”

– The Little Friend, Donna Tartt

The description of this book (- “The setting is Alexandria, Mississippi, where one Mother’s Day a little boy named Robin Cleve Dufresnes was found hanging from a tree in his parents’ yard. Twelve years later Robin’s murder is still unsolved and his family remains devastated. So it is that Robin’s sister Harriet – unnervingly bright, insufferably determined, and unduly influenced by the fiction of Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson–sets out to unmask his killer.” -) makes it sound like a quirky murder mystery. This is not what this book is about. The book follows the lives of various characters in the Mississippi town. This book is not about Robin’s death, not about who and why, but of the aftermath of his death – the devastation that carries through the lives of his family, and which seeps out into the lives of others. Harriet, neglected and looking for someone to blame for her miserable family life, targets a local petty criminal as the source of it all – Robin’s killer. There is a dark humour in the ensuing tricks that she plays on him, and the way it feeds into his own and his families paranoia. There they are imagining rival gangs targeting them, not a bitter 11 year old with too much freedom. This is a long book, overly descriptive, but also enchanting, easy to get lost in. The writing is vivid and beautiful, it feels real and there is an underlying sense of dread, of impending disaster, that also pulls you through the book, wanting to see how it all unfolds, waiting for it all to go belly up. I liked it, don’t regret the hours I spent listening to it but…I do wish there was a stronger conclusion. The book just ends, with no real conclusion or resolution. It was disappointing to invest 24 hours into this thing for such an unsatisfying non-conclusion.

As an aside, there is a horrifying amount of animal cruelty in this book that made me feel rather queasy and was difficult to get through. Those lurid descriptions were not welcome in those scenes.

Audible notes – beautiful, really beautiful audiobook. All the voices from male to female, young and old, felt natural. Very well paced. Bit hard to follow such a descriptive, meandering book in audio form, but that’s the book, not the telling of it.

“Dates only make us aware of how numbered our days are, how much closer to death we are for each one we cross off. From now on, Punzel, we’re going to live by the sun and the seasons.” He picked me up and spun me around, laughing. “Our days will be endless.”

– Or Endless Numbered Days, Claire Fuller

In this book, 8 year old Peggy is taken by her survivalist father to live in a remote cabin in Germany. When she complains that she wants to go home, her father tells her that there is no home to go back to, that they are the last two people alive on earth and that everything beyond their patch of forest has been lost to “the great divide”. Peggy’s father is very young, it is suggested, filled with paranoia and ideas, and obviously traumatized by something in his marriage (which is hidden for the majority of the book). The book switches between sections of Peggy and her father making their life in the forest, with Peggy (or Punzel as she names herself) growing up in the shadow of her father’s increasing eccentricity and within the harsh environment of the forest, cut off from the rest of the world. With Peggy firmly believing her Father that there is nothing left but them and this life, and suitably afraid of exploring too far from their cabin. The other sections are Peggy at 17 years old, having returned to live in London with her mother, without her father, and clearly very sick herself.

We are told from the start that Peggy is an unreliable narrator, suffering from a memory disorder due to diet, and we can see her penchant for stories and make believe, so it makes sense that the book takes on a rather unrealistic, embellished feel as Peggy looks back over her past. During her time in the forest Peggy is writing herself a fairytale, of which she is the princess, to cover up the true horrific nature of what she experienced. It makes sense the way the story hints at various existing tales, as if Peggy is drawing on the stories she may have listened to as a child.

But it is a bit frustrating to read – although the writing is beautiful, it is also disjointed and the scene/subject often switches abruptly, leaving a previous idea hanging with no resolution. It is slow paced, meandering its way to the final reveal. The late nature of the pulling together of all the hints, pulling back from the fairytale to the reality, did make this a difficult book to read. Combine that with the disjointed ideas and slightly unrealistic feeling to it, I almost gave up on it. I’m mostly glad I didn’t. I spent a lot of the final chapters of this book anticipating the final twist, and reveal of Peggy’s condition, and the final set of revelations still did shock me. I didn’t really want to be right.

The book came together wonderfully. And yes, it is beautifully written. And the use of music , so wonderfully captured in the audio book , is amazing. (I was startled to read about what a “piano with no sound” was.) I wish there was an epilogue though, to see what came next, after the final reveal. It’s a bit annoying to stick with the book so patiently for no real resolution. It felt like we were just really getting into the tale, when it abruptly ended.

Audio book notes- this was a stunning audio book. The narrator effortlessly switched between male and female, spoken and song, and English and German. I am fairly sure the audio book quite possibly made this more engaging than it could have been, and it certainly brought the musical parts of the book alive.

This is how we must be with our minds. We must allow ourselves to feel their gales and downpours, but all the time knowing this is just neccesary weather. When I sink deep, now, and I still do from time to time, I try and understand that there is another, bigger and stronger part of me that is not sinking. It stands unwavering. It is, I suppose, the part that would have been once called my soul.

– Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig

I finished this book a few months back and it still sticks with me. I devoured this book at the time- stealing moments to read on the bus, over a cup of coffee before work (two things I would never usually do.) It is not a perfect book – it does feel a bit dismissive towards medication, and there are some other parts that maybe shifted against me in the wrong way. Overall though, it’s a beautifully written, very honest and personal, account of living with mental illness, and coming to terms with it. I also loved the parts with the tweeted responses from other people as to their own reasons to stay alive- taking the book away from the author’s point of view to brilliant effect. And now, I have a bunch of quotes saved on my phone that I still read over when I need a moments comfort. Today, I am thinking about it too.

(Also: this will sound bad but I love how short this book is. I have too many long, clinical self-help books that, no matter how brilliantly written, just end up feeling like a chore to read.)